Once again an airline is moving back its scheduled reintroduction of the Boeing 737 MAX into regular service. On Tuesday, American Airlines announced it is canceling the troubled aircraft from its schedule until June 4, the same date United Airlines settled on more than three weeks ago for its fleet.
A month ago, American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) said it would resume flights with a limited number of MAXes on April 7, but since then manufacturer Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) decided to temporarily shut down the plane’s assembly line in Renton, Washington, until the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as European, Canadian and Chinese aviation authorities, clear the aircraft to fly again.
Regulators issued a flight ban for the plane last March after Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes crashed, killing 346 people. Investigations have pointed to the automated flight control system that wrested control from the unsuspecting pilots during takeoff to prevent what was perceived as a stall and pushed the nose into a dive. Boeing has also been blamed for relying on a single sensor, with no backups, to inform the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
Boeing officials led airlines to believe the FAA would approve its software fix by late 2019, but agency officials have rebuffed pressure to speed up the review and it now is clear that recertification will probably take at least two more months. Airlines then have to conduct extensive maintenance work on the engines and other systems of grounded aircraft, build their flight schedules with enough advance time for passengers to book flights, and get their pilots trained to understand the new software. Many airlines are expected to opt for simulator training before putting pilots in the cockpit, which could also be mandated by the FAA. That could further delay the MAX’s return to service because only a few such simulators currently exist.
Meanwhile, Boeing will have to bring some 400 parked planes up to flight condition and conduct check flights to make sure the planes are working well before it can deliver them to customers.
American said its decision to begin phasing in 737 MAX jetliners on June 4 is based on the latest guidance from the FAA and Boeing. People who were booked on a 737 MAX through June 3 will be rescheduled on another aircraft. The Dallas-based carrier said it will have to cancel about 140 flights per day through June 3 to cover for the MAX routes it is pulling from the schedule with a different aircraft.
American has 24 idle MAX aircraft and 76 on order.
The 737 MAX grounding is impacting the entire aviation sector. Cancellations and use of older, less-fuel efficient aircraft have cost airlines hundreds of millions of dollars so far. Suppliers are also seeing their cash flow dry up now that Boeing isn’t receiving components for its factory.
The 737 MAX is a narrow-body plane that is useful for shipping limited amounts of loose cargo in the bellyhold.